By Jean-Marc Claes
The diving lifestyle?
During the last weeks, we at ScubaBiz.Help were contacted by several dive companies running dive centres and dive schools in those nice lush, remote tropical places. They were all looking for instructors or, for that matter, even divemasters to come and work for them. They wanted to use our ScubaBiz.Help network to see if they could find qualified staff.
When doing some background research and asking them serious questions about the work offered, we always ask what they offer regarding payment and salary. If we want to support their job openings, we also want to know that part! Unfortunately, all too often, we saw the job ads on different Facebook sites, mentioning a complete listing of what is required from the candidates when applying for the job, but nowhere is the money mentioned of what the job is paying. Why is this?
Is there something to hide? Are we not sure about what is to be offered or what then?
You can often even see the mention of the diving lifestyle.
What is that all about? When becoming a professional scuba instructor, do you consider this a real job?
Does a real salary belong to the part of a real job?
Let me explain a bit more!
What job do you know of that requires some of the same levels of safety as being a dive instructor?
You need to take a non-scuba diver down below the surface and back to the surface again, using a bunch of equipment and taking into consideration the psychology of the person you are ‘guiding/coaching’ and their physiology as well.
As that part is not enough yet, you need to do this in a hostile environment (oceans, lakes, quarries or in the best case scenario, a pool) and here comes the catch: YOU need to make sure they LOVE it as well, have fun and have something to see (at least when it is NOT in a pool).
YOU are getting the responsibility to deal with somebody else’s life, above and below the surface, and you are 100% entirely responsible for that!
Now, let me get a nice comparison: an airplane pilot! He uses an airplane (a lot of equipment) to get a lot of people up in the air with the meaning of getting them down again in another place. This should all be done with the help of a co-pilot, some flight computers and the airplane. There are backup systems if something malfunctions, and he has his training, etc.
Sounds familiar? It should, as we, the dive instructors, are in many ways in the exact same position with one big difference: the pilot does not really have to deal with the passengers in a direct way. He does not need to hold their hands or take them one by one down to the ground by individually opening their parachutes when something goes wrong.
Did you notice that on many perfectly ‘normal’ relaxed flights, people applaud at the end of the flight when the airplane has landed? What did they expect? That it was intended to crash, and due to the pilot’s skills, it did not? Isn’t the pilot just doing their day-to-day work?
How many times did you, as a dive instructor, get applauded?
Now, let me get back to the salary.
Is a pilot getting a good, normal salary?
How long was their training?
When comparing the training of becoming a scuba instructor, starting from scratch to finish, the training for both a pilot and scuba instructor takes about the same time!
But why doesn’t the salary match?
I never see job openings for pilots where it states: It is a lifestyle, meaning you get food and a bed and some tip money, shared with the other staff, but that is about it!
Oh yes, a scuba instructor can live in a nice tropical (foreign) country, close to the beach, enjoying beautiful sunsets and have a beer after work! So that is a real extra advantage? Is it?
When you work abroad for most companies, you get an extra monthly bonus as you live in a different world, far away from family and friends, no matter how tropical that country is!
You get a relocation bonus, help with settling in/moving there, and more.
In the scuba industry, you need to buy an airplane ticket yourself. You need to find a place to live and be lucky if you can make enough money to buy an airplane ticket home again after the season is finished.
Are the scuba salaries too low? Especially considering the responsibility?
Are we, the scuba professionals taking too much for granted?
My personal opinion, Yes! Being 32 years in the scuba business now, I have worked on and seen both sides, being an employee and employer. In addition, I have worked abroad in those tropical places and have created my own business in Europe.
I have seen the profession of the scuba instructor change during those years. More precisely, I have seen the people upholding the profession change. When I started my own business in 1990, during many years, I had the same employees, some even up to 17 years, as they would reach retirement age.
Staff members with that amount of experience are very valuable as they carry an incredible amount of expertise, knowledge and more. Things you do not ‘learn’ in the Instructor Course, but things that you acquire during the years in the field or rather in the water!
For about two years now, I have been (almost) permanently on the water, diving/cruising our liveaboard around the world for the next ten years or so. It was one of the last things I did not do in my career, meaning owning and running a scuba live aboard, but believe me, I have ‘done’ and organized hundreds of them worldwide for my clients in Europe.
Every month, we pass another island, another tropical paradise, another dive destination. Every time we go and meet the local dive operators, we see the business they run, talk to them, and ask them what is easy and hard about running the business.
99% of all the conversations end up with the same issue they are facing: finding professional scuba instructors!
During the many years before, it was about finding them ‘with experience.’
Now, they have to lower their search standards to just hoping to find ‘one’…
The pool of scuba instructors is empty! COVID has made a large gap in the training of new instructors, and since most instructors only stay active for less than a year, the constant flow of new blood needs to be maintained. That stream has dried up, leaving an empty net behind.
Why do most of the scuba instructors only stay active for a year or less?
The answers are quite clear: after starting a job based on ‘lifestyle’ money, they all soon enough figure out that the lifestyle is nice for a few weeks, let alone a few months and next, get back to real life, a real job and earning real money! Then, just when they are getting the experience, the extra knowledge and more, it is at that moment that they turn around and leave the business, taking with them the needed professionalism this industry needs to grow and become better.
Is it time to change? Is it time to reorganize? Is it time to revalue the scuba professional?
Yes, it is, IF it is not already too late!
We have to take a good look at this profession and compare!
In an earlier edition of ScubaBiz.Help, I wrote an article about skydive instructors and scuba dive instructors, comparing the jobs!
It is quite similar. What I did not do, was compare the salaries!
What do you think? Should skydiving instructors be paid more as their job is more dangerous?
Should they make less money as pilots or even more?
And what about the scuba instructors? Suppose our industry wants experienced and long-lasting professionals. In that case, we should allow these people to build a real careers, earn money to buy a house, start a family and live a decent life like all other professions!
If we do not value scuba professionals to the same level as other professions where risks are that high, and responsibility comes to a level of zero tolerance in making mistakes (how many of those professions are there?), the future of scuba diving will be seriously in danger, and scuba diving itself will be impacted tremendously!
There is more to scuba diving than just Try Dives or Discover Scuba classes!
But at the rate, this is going, that might be the only thing that will be left to do on your next holiday as there will be no more scuba professionals around to take you to the next level: becoming scuba certified to dive independently.
Many Next Generation divers are just not willing anymore to take on those commitments mentioned above for the little money offered in the scuba diving business!
With this article, I am NOT pointing to any specific dive organization or company. Instead, I am just stating the findings of a few years of research, being in the real world of scuba diving on a daily basis.
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